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HOLLAND v. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINES

October 24, 1990

ELIZABETH HOLLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINES, KLOSTER CRUISE, LTD., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENDERSON

 THELTON E. HENDERSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The plaintiff was injured while a passenger on the defendant's ship. The defendant moves for summary judgment on the ground that the contractual period for filing a lawsuit had expired before the plaintiff filed suit. The plaintiff claims that equitable estoppel deprives the defendant of this defense and created an extension of time in which to file.

 For the reasons discussed below, this Court finds that the plaintiff is time barred from prosecuting this suit and that the defendant is not estopped from this defense. Consequently, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

 I. BACKGROUND

 In September 1988, Kloster Cruise, doing business as Norwegian Cruise Line, sold Elizabeth Holland a ticket for a cruise to take place from September 3 to September 10. The ticket contract set out the terms and conditions of Holland's passage, including a requirement that suits for personal injuries to passengers be brought within one year from the day the injury occurred.

 Upon boarding the ship, Holland kept the passenger copy of her ticket. On 6 September 1988, Holland suffered injury from the allegedly negligent conduct of a cruise director.

 After returning from the cruise, Holland complained in writing to the customer relations department of Norwegian Cruise Line. In November 1988, the department told Holland that her letter had been forwarded to Norwegian's claims adjuster, Caribbean Marine Associates. In December 1988, Caribbean agreed to investigate the matter, and the usual communications followed. In February 1989, Caribbean offered Holland $ 1,000. Holland rejected this offer.

 Thereafter, Holland brought to an attorney the passenger copy of her ticket, which has disappeared. Holland hired another attorney and filed suit in this court on 19 January 1990, sixteen months after her injury, praying for general damages, medical expenses, and loss of earnings.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute as to material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1976).

 A. Whether the Contractual Limitation of the Period for Filing a Lawsuit Is Valid

 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a provides a three-year statute of limitations for filing a maritime tort. 46 U.S.C. App. § 183b(a) allows sea carriers to place in their carriage contracts a one-year limit on passenger suits for personal injuries. Courts incorporate such a limitation into a passenger ticket contract only if the sea carrier reasonably communicated to its passengers that the contractual term affects their legal rights. See, e.g., Spataro v. Kloster Cruise, Ltd., 894 F.2d 44, 45-46 (2d Cir. 1990). Whether the notice to passengers was reasonably adequate is a question of law. Nash v. Kloster Cruise A/S, 901 F.2d 1565, 1567 (11th Cir. 1990).

 The proper test of reasonably adequate notice depends on an analysis of the overall circumstances of each case. Shankles v. Costa Armatori, S.P.A., 722 F.2d 861, 866 (1st Cir. 1983). The parties in this case agree that two elements are relevant. The first element is the physical characteristics of the ticket contract: the language and placement of the limiting provision. See, e.g., Nash, supra, 901 F.2d at 1567; Shankles, supra, 722 F.2d at 864. The second element is the circumstances surrounding the passenger's purchase and subsequent retention of the ticket contract, that is, any ...


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